The Clash, Dolly Parton, and 'Return of the Mack': What 2020 Democrats' walk-on music says about their campaigns

The good, the bad, and the trying way too hard

A record player.
(Image credit: Illustrated | mactrunk/iStock, Wikimedia Commons)

On Sunday, the crowded field of Democratic presidential nominees gathered in Cedar Rapids for the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame. Each candidate in attendance was given five minutes to make their case to caucus-goers, in what turned out to be a somewhat un-newsworthy event. However, getting to the real soul of the matter, Time's Lissandra Villa helpfully reported the songs that each 2020 hopeful played as they made their way to the stage.

See more

Here's what the candidates' picks for their walk-on music says about their campaigns.

Cory Booker - "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Booker already possesses a cool factor that other candidates are still desperately trying to cultivate (see below), so he eschews a modern track for the sunny optimism of soul legend Bill Withers. With this throwback, Booker both pays homage to his roots and shows his interest in courting an older, blacker crowd to his base.

Pete Buttigieg - "High Hopes" by Panic! at the Disco

Since April, Buttigieg has walked out to this fanfare, although reports are unconfirmed if his selection changed for yesterday's event. Brendon Urie, the frontman and last remaining original member of Panic! at the Disco, came out as pansexual last year and recently starred in a rainbow-themed music video with Taylor Swift. In a race with a lot of firsts for diversity, Buttigieg looks to align himself with the historic LGBTQ nature of his candidacy.

Bill De Blasio - "Rudy Can't Fail" by The Clash

If De Blasio was hoping to tap into some New York City cred with a punk song, he could have at least chosen an actual New York City band. Unlike Rudy, Bill seems guaranteed to fail.

Kirstin Gillibrand - "Good as Hell" by Lizzo

Lizzo is currently having a moment and Gillibrand herself had a moment back in January when she was the first woman to officially announce her 2020 run. But while Lizzo's momentum seems poised to turn into lasting relevance, Gillibrand has fallen back into the crowd. Lizzo's feel-good feminism and empowerment pop lands on just the right side of refreshing and effective, but this use of "Good as Hell" tips into pandering territory.

Kamala Harris - "Work That" by Mary J. Blige

Harris, who has been criticized by progressives for her prosecutorial record in California can't change the past, but "Work That" speaks to her current strategy: drawing positive attention by doing what she does best and tearing it up on the Judiciary Committee.

Amy Klobuchar - "Bullpen" by Dessa

A surprisingly savvy choice. Minneapolis rapper Dessa may be best known for her appearance on the Hamilton mixtape, but she's a hometown hero in Minnesota and beloved by public radio. Dessa raps big game in a male-dominated field and Klobuchar obviously hopes to emulate some of that bravada.

Beto O'Rourke - "Clampdown" by The Clash

In case you forgot that Beto was Cool and Likable, magazine covers across the nation have your back. And if that's not enough, this song choice mildly telegraphs the message, I suppose.

Bernie Sanders - "Power to the People" by John Lennon

Sanders' 2016 campaign ad "America" utilized the Simon & Garfunkel song of the same name, with the lyric "they've all come to look for America" quietly nodding to his open-armed stance on immigration. Sanders returns to the same civil rights era with this pick, re-emphasizing the democratic socialist rhetoric that nearly won him the nomination last time around.

Elizabeth Warren - "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton

A seminal song from the '70s celebrating working women, Warren re-ups her feminist credentials and tries to bridge the gap between old school and new school activists fighting for women's rights. "Want to move ahead/But the boss won't seem to let me/I swear sometimes that man is out to get me." Sound familiar 40 years later?

Andrew Yang - "Return of the Mack" by Mark Morrison

I completely forgot about this song, just like I often forget that Yang is running for president.

Tulsi Gabbard - "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell; John Hickenlooper - "Good Life" by OneRepublic; Tim Ryan - "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X

Unoriginal, tired, and trying way too hard, respectively.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us